OpEd- The Canberra Times - The best investment you can make is in yourself

OpEd – The Canberra Times

14 September 2017

There's nothing I love more than getting out and about to Australia's small businesses to hear their ideas and feedback.

Across hundreds of communities in the past year or so, I have been lucky enough to see some of the best of small business in this country.

And often I am asked what I think is the secret to small business success.

As small business' champion in Canberra I am happy to talk up our many measures to help this vital sector succeed, but in reality the answer starts with you.

You and your mental health. That is the best investment you can make.

Today is RUOK? Day. Today, I want to you to think about your mental health and that of your staff, as well as those around you.

Like many Australians, I know and care for people whose lives have been touched by mental ill-health.

I am concerned the stresses of running a small business, which can sometimes affect your mental health, can be put on the back-burner as you get on with business – the daily grind of making sure the bills are paid, sifting through paperwork, keeping customers happy – often forgetting to look after yourself.

Small businesses are like families. Your staff and your clients are your greatest assets and your care for them is genuine. So when concerns surface about someone's mental health, a small business owner will do whatever it takes to help.

Lucy Brogden from the National Mental Health Commission agrees.

"… This is not as simple as applying what we know works in larger organisations.

“There are unique risk factors faced by small business owners which can have negative impact on both physical and mental health," she said.

"Interventions and supports must be co-designed with the sector to ensure optimal outcomes."

Lucy reminds us that talking about mentally healthy workplaces should also include a reminder of the more than 5.6 million Australians who work in a small business where there aren't the corporate structures of human resources nor the front-of-mind coverage of larger organisations.

Mental health takes no account of hierarchy or whether staff are on holidays. It is something that affects those who run and own small businesses as well as those who work in them.

The Council of Small Businesses of Australia chief executive Peter Strong often raises this with his members.

There's nothing wrong with caring for the boss, he says.

"You can't have a mentally healthy workplace if you don't consider everyone's mental health."

I want to put this on small business' agenda because it is important.

If we want the economy to grow and we want more jobs and productivity, then the mental health of everyone should be front and centre when people need it.

Like your business – I need you to look after yourself if we are to see our small business sector grow.

There's no simple solution for getting it right. But there is always someone who will listen.

Organisations and charities are there to help and those of us who lead the small business sector – no matter your size or location – want you to succeed by using them when you need to.

This means raising awareness of days such as today. It also means taking the time to ask the crucial question, "RU OK?", and being there to listen when you hear the answer.

Pretty soon job-lots and paperwork get put into perspective.

And there are professionals ready to help.

So please take care and look after yourself – and reach out to those of us who care.

Together we can see small business succeed and create jobs and opportunities for Australians well into the future.

A number of charities, including RUOK are there to listen. You may also like to visit Heads Up, an initiative of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and beyondblue, developed with input from COSBOA.


Michael McCormack is Australia's Small Business Minister and the Nationals' MP for Riverina.

Dom Hopkinson